I had such a lovely afternoon today chatting with another mother. Our children played together while we talked,over delicious iced water, about our families, migrant issues, refugees and childhood memories . L is two years younger than I am, and earned simultaneous degrees in law and chemistry , did education work with Aboriginal peoples, relief work in Nepal and competed in ballroom dancing competitions.
And so, we started talking about the things we’d wanted to do in our youth, and how we’d never have imagined ourselves doing what we are doing now- being home with the children, working a little, and living lives so vastly different from what we’d expected.
And I was reminded of a glorious poem by this woman poet called Linda Pastan: “I Married You”, where at first the reader is led to think that the poet will end with a complaint or lament over an unhappy marriage.
“I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.
I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.”
The surprise comes at the end, when she writes:
“How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.”
As we exchanged notes, L and I laughed over our youthful expectations. We laughed out of a sense of surprise, that we could say with all honesty- that we have been happy, and that “it has been very good”. What a shining afternoon it was.
When I started taking up writing as a calling seriously, I looked at the situation I was in -children, family- and told myself that if I ever had to choose between doing what I love (writing) , and these iridiscent years with our young ones, I won’t need two seconds to know which one I’d drop. God knows, it’s not because I love writing or studying any less; but because I love my children and family beyond comparison.
I also told God, that if this was really something He was leading me into, and not some self-delusional feelings I had about myself, He’d have to enable me to work(write) in the midst of our situation. I can’t afford weekly or even monthly retreats so that I can write, or sign up for courses- not for this season anyway. No. God would have to enable me to find the creative spaces here, where I am- in the grease and grime of cooking, cleaning, caring, forgiving and loving.
And, I also believe, that we , as mothers-daughters-wives, will not be diminished by the responsibilities and homeliness that we bear. And that growing old- something I welcome with open arms- will not reduce who we are. Growing old can enlarge our views, deepen our faith, sharpen our understanding of what it means to live, play, work and pray- if we let it. And so, my writing, I believe , will be enriched by all this- the mess, the turning away and turning back, the struggling with fatigue, tempers, character, laundry and faith.
I have a bone to pick with Kierkegaard. It has to do with the kind of risk that K ascribed to Abraham, as he stood with his knife over his son on Mount Moriah. K sees Abraham’s choice as a “leap of faith”- a leap that transcends ethics, which to K was a rational matter. We see where K is coming from, his revolt against the dead religiousity around him that was based on the power of reason to determine right and wrong.
But the story of Abraham stretched far back beyond that moment on the mountain, back to Ur, back to that embarassing sojourn into Egypt, back to his refusal of the King of Sodom’s gifts, back to the night when God commanded him to count the number of stars in the sky and promised him descendants as numerous as the night could hold;back to the covenant-making command marked by circumcision; back to the afternoon on the plains of Mamre when three visitors arrived and fellowshipped in his tent; back to Sarah laughing and then, conceiving Isaac though her womb should have been dry and dead; back to Beersheba when Abraham planted a grove and called on the “name of the Lord, the everlasting God”. Abraham’s decision to trust God-that early morning as he saddled his ass, commanded his men and young Isaac to heave the wood onto the beasts-was based on those long, painful and wondrous years of walking with God.
As Paul put it in his letter to the Romans (italics, mine) , “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief ( Abraham recalls the moment in his journey when God gave him the promise) ; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform, And therefore it was imputed him for righteousness.”
And this, I think, is faith- that long days’ walking with God, so that when the moment of testing comes, we act on faith- not a “leap” into the dark, into some unknown territory- but a climb into new terrain, with the same Person who has walked with you till then, and has held you whole through pits, vipers and enemies stronger than you.
June marks the the end of our first homeschooling term. We’ve been taking plennnty of breaks in between; mostly because of fields trips, extra classes and playdates. Those have been good interruptions, depending on whether you see them as punctuations in the whole composition that is homeschooling, or as part of the script.
We did manage to get several hands-on projects done- mainly those related to machines (pulleys, gears and levers) and chemistry (Noeo). Our presentations for the World Studies Club has been sketchy to say the least- tepees, buffalo skin (brown paper) paintings, boats, and an art piece that was related to a certain land form. I should put those pictures on the blog, and I will soon enough. The children like to see them all nice and neat on the page.
But I intend to makes some changes. It was our trip to Singapore that prompted me to re-look at the stuff that we’ve been doing- mainly my scrambling to cover everything under the sun that’s to be covered, from fractions to birdwatching, from sourcing for videos on the Yom Kippur war to marking copywork, which my 10 yr old, incidentally still does.
Changes? Well, for a start, to expand the way we have been learning/teaching so that, like a helix, it grows and bends in all directions instead of remaining flat. So, away with the stacks of workbooks and filling in the blanks and worksheets. Well, away with most of them. And to get back on discussions, experiments, getting our hands dirty in the dirt, and fun.
How did we end up towing this textbook-workbook line, I ask myself? I started off homeschooling on a hope and a prayer that we would revel in discovery-based learning. Why didn’t that happen for us the first half of the year? I think busyness has a large part to do with this: it’s so much easier to hand a workbook over to the child and let her “sort it out on her own”, than to sit down with her and to talk over the stories or history behind it. So much easier, to assess a child based on marks – “Hey! You got 4 out of 10 right!”- than to ask her why she thinks a certain way about, say, Saburo ( Paterson’s Master Pupeeter) and the decisions he makes.
At the same time, I’m not a purist when it comes to learning: I don’t believe that any approach has got it all down pat. Like most things in life, parents have to evaluate the approaches,e.g. classical and Charlotte Mason, and see how it fits the family and children. Then, of course, that’s the part about integrating our cultural identity with whatever materials we’re using, as most of our sources come from the West – and by that, I mean , the U.S.
I suppose it’s distractions that I have to be aware of as a homeschooling mom, so that my energy doesn’t diffuse into a million directions. And so, this comes back to priorities, and keeping a sense of focus on what’s important for the present ; and in Buber’s words, being ” I and Thou”- present to the person before me.
Next week, my English classes begin again. I look forward to having the whole bunch descend upon our home each Friday morning. Also, there’s the monthly classes with the teens beginning July, and , God -willing, another weekly class for another age group. I’m also a little apprehensive because it sounds like there’s more juggling of commitments to be done. Still, it’s not really an option for us at this point, not to have me work. At least, that’s what I think, though Adrian, blessed man, begs to differ. We’re going to be 40 next year, by the way, and our journey together has been one that testifies to God’s goodness and grace. We are very different people, that’s why this has been such an eventful and love-filled experience- this oneness that was and is God’s idea, and will always be His to the very end.
It’s good that God allows us to make u-turns. In a way, this is repentance- a turning away from old habits and getting my feet (and eyes and heart) back on the path.
Not long ago, a writer came up to me and fervently said that experience was necessary in order to write well. By experience, she meant traveling and seeing places, interviewing people and spending days among communities whose lives are different from ours. I look at the homeliness of my existence and wonder if this is a death sentence on my work as a writer.
My foray into writing began with the usual flippant tales of princesses, princes (groan), magicians and animals that could talk. I must have been nine or ten. And then there were those angst-filled (and wonder-splattered) teen journals- books and books of them. I’ve written for as a long as I remember, even when there was nothing worth much to write about. Thus, to hear that my writing would be somehow stagnated by my inability to travel, and explore exciting places and cultures – all of which I would love to do, given the time and money- was discouraging, to put it mildly.
And so, when I chanced upon this quote, I was overjoyed!
“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”
That came from Eudora Welty, and I think she expressed for me, the essence of what I believe- that writing stems from seeing, and daring to see and hear in ways that may seem dull and painful. This , for some reason other, recalls to mind what Kierkegaard’s critics level at him, which was that he made Christianity absurd and paradoxical. Conversion is a “leap of faith”, writes K as he argues a for a higher sphere of existence which requires a suspension of the ethical. Genesis 22 becomes the backdrop for his arguments and Abraham’s decision comes with “fear and trembling”, for on what rational grounds can he justify his action to Isaac, to the waiting Sarah at home, to those under his ‘care’? And so, says Kierkgaard, Abraham takes a stand and risks everything for his faith that it is indeed God who has spoken to him, and not the distortions of the sirocco.
So it is when one writes. You throw yourself into the story or poem swimming about you, and you push away the yelling of those inner editors all coming at you from different directions, and you plunge into the silence of the form taking shape before you- believing that you have heard something : the words to a song, a giggle, a footfall- and purse it, suspending the obvious flotation devices of geography, culture and space. I believe that is what Eudora W meant by “serious daring”. And why my friend was mistaken. No amount of exposure can do things to to you if it remains on the outside.
I don’t mean that journalism is impersonal; only that the journalist-commentator asserts her presence in the write-up, therefor posing this distance between the reader, commentator/reporter and the report or story. And it is precisely this- the artifice of distance- that the writer of poetry or fiction, the makers of metaphors, try to diminish.
I wish I could say that I am reading Kierkegaard firsthand. What I have on my table is Duncan’s Soren Kierkegaard from our church library. But it will suffice for now, until my mind is clearer and I am able to sit for hours in a chair and sink myself into the words on the page.
This morning, our family had our first family ‘queit time’ for the new year. We talked about the good things that happened in the year that just went by, and the not-so-good things that took place. In between trying to get our 5 year old to contribute instead of taking off to do her own thing, and penning my thoughts down, there was that feeling of awe and thankfulness to the Lord. The months leading up to Jan were exhausting ones and Christmas just flew past : it was odd, having Christmas jettison by me that way- like picking up a glass of orange juice, hoping for that sourish-sweet tang , and being lulled by the blandness of tap water instead. So, I was really glad that this new year’s day was meaningful. And perhaps, in the larger scheme of things, this was the Christmas that we somehow missed, and that I somehow failed to make meaningfull for our children.
We also read Psalm 90, a psalm that Moses wrote and probably, sang, in the last years of his life. This man never had a real home from the time he was placed in that basket by the reeds, to those many years of dust and wind in the wilderness with the hive of muttering former slaves hanging on to him all the time. Even though that was God’s will for him, it must have been pretty hard to swallow. Wandering about the wilderness among the rocks and wily animals, watched by idolatrous nations.
So when he declares that God is “our dwelling place throughout all generations”, he expressed, I think, the deepest desire of his being- and the deepest longing of the people he was leading: a longing for home. By affirming that God was their home- that one permanent place and presence- in a landscape and existence that was ever shifting, Moses ‘ words reminds us to look at the eternal, at that which lasts, instead of the temporal.
What a hefty reminder for the beginning of the year. I pray we will keep our eyes on treasures in heaven, and make wise choices that count for eternity.